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Solons seek inquiry on SALN laws

Two legislators have filed a resolution seeking a congressional inquiry into the implementation of existing laws pertaining to the filing of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth by government officials and employees.

Reps. Michael Defensor of Anakalusugan and Rodante Marcoleta of Sagip party-list filed the resolution "to ensure the strict and effective implementation of said existing laws and regulations."

"The filing of the SALN, as laid out in several cases decided by the Supreme Court, the latest of which were the Quo Warranto proceedings filed against then Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, is a constitutional and statutory requirement that helps establish the integrity, or lack thereof of a public official," the resolution stated.

The resolution also cited Section 7 of the 1987 Constitution that guarantees every Filipino the right to information on matters of public concern in the spirit of transparency and accountability.

It also noted that in July 2016, Executive Order No. 2, series of 2016, was signed to operationalize the people's constitutional right to information, which also affirms the requirement to file the SALNs by officials in the Executive Department, and furthermore, to make these SALNs available for scrutiny in accordance with existing laws, rules and regulations.

Similarly, the resolution noted that in a Memorandum dated September 1, 2020, the Office of the Ombudsman restricted access to a public official's SALN by requiring the consent of the declarant prior to gaining access to the same.

The memorandum provided an additional requirement that "no SALN shall be furnished to the requester unless he/she presents a notarized letter of authority from the declarant allowing the release of the requested SALN."

The resolution directs the House committee on public accounts, which Defensor chairs, to conduct the inquiry "to determine policy gaps and formulate amendatory measures, including the passage of the proposed People's Right to Information Act that will apply to all branches of government, to help protect the integrity of public service, and ensure that any elected or appointed official or employee shall be transparent and accountable for his or her actions at all times."

Meanwhile, Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen has appeared extremely disappointed about the expose that his chamber requested for P5 million funds for the renovation of his vacation house in Baguio City.

Leonen was even compelled to issue a press statement denying that he sought the SC en banc’s consideration for the release of P4,970,623.71 to cover the cost of repairing the vacation house that was assigned to him and his staff in Baguio City.

In his November 26 press statement, Leonen said: “My chambers never endorsed the P5-million proposal to renovate Cottage G in Baguio City. The proposal was drafted by the Supreme Court’s Maintenance Division and, without having gone through my office, was placed in the Court’s En Banc agenda. Upon learning of this, I immediately wrote a letter requesting that the matter be withdrawn, and it was promptly deleted.”

Justice Leonen even exhorted the media “to adhere to the highest editorial standards and thoroughly verify the information they report to the public,”

“Misleading information, whether or not motivated by malice, harms the shaping of public opinion . . . Disinformation is an insult to the values congealed in free speech. Disinformation, especially from the media, should end,” he said.

Ironically, highly placed sources in the judiciary have another version on why Leonen had sought for removal from the Court En Banc’s agenda his request for funds to renovate his cottage in Baguio City.

According to the source, the third most senior magistrate of the high court wrote a letter to Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta on November 23, a day before the bench’s en banc discuss the P5 million Cottage G, requesting for a postponement of the magistrates’ decision about the issue since the associate justice wanted to ‘review’ and ‘study’ the whole picture of the renovation, materials that will be used and its costs.

Peralta agreed not to tackle the Cottage G. Leonen’s multimillion-peso wish to change the vacation house, which was exposed to the media while the country’s economy has slowed down since the second quarter of the year due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

As this happened, it was revealed in the media that Justice Leonen’s office on October 17 wrote a letter to Deputy Clerk of Court Ma. Carina Cunanan, of the high bench’s Administrative Services, about the P5 million worth of renovation to the Cottage G.

The one who wrote the letter to Cunanan was Atty. Jeanne Carla T. Ferrer-Becina, Leonen’s “judicial staff head”.

Noticeably, the letter was made few weeks after the “modified enhanced community quarantine” in several regions in Luzon was lifted.

The government and the private sector have started to train their guns on addressing the poverty that have hit millions of Filipinos during the COVID – 19 and the attack of typhoons “Quinta” and “Rolly” in October Thousands of families were severely affected by the typhoons, including the lost their houses.

In truth, Leonen did not actually withdraw his plan, but merely deferred because he wanted to “review” and “study” the renovation plan.

SC justices have their respective vacation house in Baguio City which they use in their discussions and deliberations on important cases and issues during the summer period.

The Cottage G was previously assigned to former Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

On November 18, Cunanan wrote to the Supreme Court’s Clerk of Court, Atty. Edgar Aricheta, about Leonen’s request. It was clear that Cunanan mentioned in her letter that it was Atty. Becina who wrote request – letter for the renovation of Cottage G.

The request – letter was a concrete evidence that the changes on the Cottage G was a request made by Leonen, which is a complete contradiction of the latter’s denial to media expose on the issue.

The Cottage G is a three-story vacation house. It has three living areas, a basement, six rooms and a master bedroom which includes a study room, for bathroom, several lanai and a garden.

The cost for the basement renovation alone was pegged at P1,888,983.20. The direct cost could reach to P3,859,179, while there is a separate of P532,566 as “contingency funds” and another P532,566 for the payment of value added tax (VAT) to the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Topics: Michael Defensor , Rodante Marcoleta , SALN , Ma Lourdes Sereno
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